The Core 100 HT-BD comes in a small package, and at first you wonder how such a powerful unit could come in such a small size.
 


Apart from the main unit, the package also bundles the following:

1. 90W AC / DC Adapter
2. SATA and power cables, as well as mounting screws for an optional second 2.5" hard disk
3. HDMI to DVI adapter
4. MCE remote and batteries.
5. Manual with instructions for disassembling and mounting the optional disk drive
6. Anti-slip pad for the base of the unit
7. CD with drivers and ASRock utilities
 


The appearance and dimensions of the unit are very similar to that of the ION 330-HT that was reviewed last August. The build quality of the chassis is top notch, and the unit will have no problem in blending with the A/V equipment of most consumers. However, the abrupt edges of the unit will not sit well with those interested more in the aesthetics and appearance rather than the internal capabilities of the unit. In the next iteration of the product, ASRock will probably work on the industrial design a bit more. Replacing the slimline Blu-Ray drive with a slot-loading type drive would also improve the appearance. These types of changes would enable them to cater to the segment of consumers who go more by the looks also.

We had mentioned in the ION 330 review about the absence of ports on the front panel being a bit strange, and ASRock has duly taken note, putting two USB 3.0 ports on the front panel. In addition, we also have headphone and microphone jacks in front. A set of vents on the left of the front panel helps in cooling the unit by maintaining air circulation. The slimline Blu-Ray drive is the same as those which make an appearance in various notebooks. The cost of such drives has come down drastically in the last 1 year, and we don't expect this component to add on too much cost over the DVD drive only version. Notably absent in the ION 330, but making an appearance in this unit is the THX logo above the power button to the right of the front panel.


ASRock uses the two sides of the unit as antennae for the Atheros WiFi module. Moving on to the rear of the unit, we find the adapter power input, followed by the audio ports. Analog audio output can be connected directly to the speakers, or the optical SPDIF output can be used to connect to older A/V receivers. Following this is the Gigabit Ethernet port, and 6 USB 2.0 slots. Further to the right, we have the VGA output (we really needed a DVI here), beneath which one gets the eSATA slot and HDMI output port. Wrapping up this panel is the ventilation fan. Our only gripe with the back panel is the placement of the eSATA port, which makes it difficult to connect external hard disks, particularly when the VGA port is being used.

Just like a notebook, this unit also supports simultaneous display on two monitors. Testing was done mostly with the HDMI output connected to a Toshiba REGZA 37" 1080p TV through an Onkyo TX-SR 606, and the VGA port connected to a old Dell monitor running at 1280x1024. It must be noted that the HDMI port on the unit is only 1.3a. This makes it impossible for the unit to drive monitors with resolutions higher than 1920x1080. Even extremely affordable 2048x1152 monitors such as this one from Dell are left unsupported at their maximum resolutions. However, we expect that this will not be a concern to buyers, since the unit will probably end up getting connected to a 1080p TV in most scenarios.

The Core 100 HT-BD ships with no OS installed. For the purpose of this review, we loaded up a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate x64. It is also possible to install Ubuntu or any other Linux distribution and still be able to take advantage of most of the HTPC functions of the system. Our analysis in the rest of the article, however, is completely from the Windows 7 standpoint.

Starting with this piece, all our media streamer and HTPC reviews will carry a table summarizing the data and A/V connectivity options for the unit from a home theater perspective. We will conclude this section with the same.

 
A/V Connectivity Options for the Core 100HT-BD
Option Status
   
HDMI Yes [v1.3a]
Component No
Composite No
VGA Yes
SPDIF Yes [Optical]
Stereo Yes

 

 
Data Connectivity Options for Core 100HT-BD
Option Status
   
Optical Disk Drive Yes [Blu-Ray]
USB Yes [6 x v2.0, 2 x v3.0]
eSATA Yes
LAN Yes [ 1000 Mbps GbE ]
Internal HDD Yes [ 500 GB ]
WiFi Yes [ 300 Mbps 802.11n ]
Card Reader No
Introduction System Specifications, Teardown & Analysis
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  • tmservo - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    This is a good point regarding tuners. I also wish there was an internal. But I can deal without. Right now, I have 4 tuners: a SiliconDust dual tuner QAM (connects over ethernet) a 2250 and a ATI650. But I almost never watch that many programs at once, and with the cable companies limiting, they are on my elimination list. This fall SiliconDust is supposed to have their 3 tuner CableCard solution out. At the moment they have that, my need of any cards in my PC completely go away. Completely goes away. I'll have better TV input.

    Now, I wish there was a single PCI-E x1 slot so I could consider the Ceton, but I could deal.
    Reply
  • jnmfox - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Surprised Silicon Dust's HDHomeRun hasn't been mentioned:
    http://www.silicondust.com/products/hdhomerun/atsc...

    One of the best tuners around and will work on any networked PC. Plus you don't have to add bulk to your HTPC by making it bigger to fit a tuner inside. One of the best HTPC purchases I've made.
    Reply
  • Braumin - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Everyone needs a different tuner. Including any tuner would just be a waste of money since it would not be guaranteed to work on the owner's system. USB and Network tuners are available and make this a complete DVR. Reply
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    I already use an HD HomeRun as my tuner, so no internal tuner isn't a deal killer at all for me. (And I may get a second HD HomeRun.) Reply
  • jrwalte - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    Did you ever consider using a USB tuner? Reply
  • EnzoFX - Wednesday, July 21, 2010 - link

    There are probably more USB based tuners these days than internal tuners being made. Secondly, I strongly recommend the network based HDHomeRun tuner. Lastly, this is probably targeted at people who wouldn't want to install an internal tuner. Reply
  • RamIt - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Give me an expansion slot and I'll buy one. until then no thx. Reply
  • ganeshts - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    RamIt,

    Most of what can be achieved through an expansion slot is possible using external USB devices. The Core 100 unit is quite liberal in that respect, providing 6 USB 2.0 ports and 2 USB 3.0 ports.

    Also, note that the chipset used is the HM55. Compare this with a similarly spec-ed notebook computer. It is difficult for manufacturers to provide expansion slots, and even if they do, the costs of the devices fitting those slots are much higher than their external USB counterparts.
    Reply
  • Stokestack - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    Unfortunately, the only USB 3 ports are on the front. This is a mistake. People setting up a nice home-theater system don't want ugly wires hanging out of their components full-time.

    Receiver makers are making the same baffling mistake with USB ports for iPods. Why on earth would I want this wire dangling off the front of the unit all the time? A port on the back allows you to plug a dock, an external drive, or tuner in and keep it out of sight.
    Reply
  • GeorgeH - Tuesday, July 20, 2010 - link

    At $700 this will be competing with the Mac Mini. It has superior hardware specs, but if I were looking for something small, quiet, and attractive to put in my living room the Mini would win easily. This box is just to close to a basic mini-ITX box that any troglodyte could throw together - ASRock really needs to leverage their ability to make completely custom parts before they have a truly compelling product.

    It's cool to see more high-powered boxes in this form factor, I just wish it had been executed better.
    Reply

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